Growing roses

Over the past few months I have visited Silver Lakes, an upmarket security estate, and the Protea Retirement Village, east of Pretoria. Both complexes have tiny gardens and the way they have used roses has convinced me that we can start advocating roses as the plant for small gardens.

There are a number of reasons why the rose can claim this honour.

A rose bush fulfils several functions simultaneously. It can be a focal point, it bears flowers almost 10 months of the year, provides cut flowers for the house, and each specimen can be a garden talking point. How many other garden plants can perform so consistently, with each plant claiming a unique personality? There are many other beautiful garden flowers, but few have the heritage of roses.

The different heights and growth habits of roses offer both variety and flexibility according to the garden space. Vertical growers like the spire roses, certain hybrid teas, miniature climbers and standard roses fit into narrow spaces. Groundcovers and miniature climbers can be trained up trellises. Miniature roses make excellent border plants.

One garden I visited belonged to Mrs Jane Greef who moved into the Protea Retirement Village six years ago. She had never grown roses before but today her small garden is brimful with 500 healthy and vigorous roses. And she knows each rose by name. In those six years she has learnt everything she can about roses – how to prepare the beds, when to spray, what diseases to look out for, when to prune, how to feed, and how to make the most of her small area.

Talking to Mrs Greef and other residents I realised how much gardening meant to them. The gardens are their friends, adding purpose to their lives, consoling them over the loss of loved ones, and allowing them the pleasure of sharing the flowers and plants with friends and neighbours.

Mrs Greef uses the different heights of the roses to get the most out of her small beds. Miniature or small, compact bushes are planted at the front of beds, with medium varieties behind and taller hybrid teas, standard roses or even spire roses at the back of the bed to provide height. The effect is a bank of green leaves and blooms from top to bottom.

Her roses are planted very close together to achieve a massed effect. She likes to plant about five of each variety and she pays attention to her colour scheme, keeping colours together and blending from one shade to another. The closer planting also makes it easier to spray them and fertilising is more effective.

Before planting the roses the beds were very well prepared, with generous additions of com posted manure and organic material. The beds are continually being enriched and the result is a dark, rich and friable soil.

All the rose beds are slightly raised and edging has been used to keep the soil from washing off.

This gives the roses a greater depth of soil, especially if the underlying ground has a high clay content or is very stony. It also raises the roots of the roses above possible competition from nearby trees and shrubs and improves the drainage.

The roses are fertilised once a month with Ludwig’s Vigorosa or Wonder Rose 8:1:5 and sprayed regularly to keep diseases at bay, especially in the rainy weather.

At Silver Lakes I saw how standard roses were under-planted with annuals or low growing perennials, allowing a small garden to have a greater variety of flowers.

Spire roses, which grow tall and upright and provide cut flowers for the house, are also useful. Their growth is not bushy and, provided they get enough sun, their canes do not hang forward. Other roses or shrubs can be planted in front of them. I have also found that when roses are combined with many other flowers, the roses tend to grow through and upwards, meaning that the other flowers tend to cover their bases, which is useful as the bases can sometimes be unattractive. A groundcover rose or miniature climber can be trained up a trellis or over a garden arch. Single roses can also be used to make a statement, as can two or three roses in a container.

When many of our customers started to move into townhouses we thought the demand for roses would drop, but it hasn’t and we are also finding that many young couples with children want roses in their new gardens. The rose seems simply to be re-inventing itself.

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